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Divorce hurts kids
December 30, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Divorce does more damage to kids than parents like to think.
That's the conclusion of a British survey done by the online site Netmums. The site surveyed 1,000 divorced parents and about 100 of their children and got wildly varying results. More than 75 percent of the mothers said their kids had coped well with the divorce; only 18 percent of the children who were surveyed said they were happy with their parents' divorce.
One in 20 of the kids were using alcohol; one in nine had self-harmed, and one in six had thought about suicide. Only 1 percent of the parents had any idea that their kids were drinking, were suicidal or had hurt themselves. A third of the children, who were between the ages of 8 and 18, described themselves as "devastated" by their parents' divorce. Nearly 40 percent of them hid their feelings from their parents. Of the divorced parents, only 10 percent acknowledged that their kids had seen them fighting, but 35 percent of the children said they had seen their parents arguing.
This survey has appeared in most of the British newspapers this weekend and the self-defensive comments on newspaper comment forums are interesting. Undoubtedly, it simply hurts too much for these parents to realize how much they have hurt their children. Like the U.S., the United Kingdom is a country where there are many divorced and never married couples. It is the conventional wisdom that kids are better off with divorced parents than they are living in a home where the adults are fighting all the time, even though many recent studies would suggest this is probably not actually the case. Unless the parents are actively abusive to each other, kids probably fare better when their parents stay together "for the sake of the children" even if the parents are no longer entirely happy together.
What seems to do the most damage, judging by the Netmums survey, is high conflict divorce, where parents continue to fight and use their children as pawns against one another even after the divorce papers are signed. Judith Wallerstein wrote a book several years ago called "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce" that documented the damage done to children of divorce well into middle age. Their parents' divorce had a profound effect on their ability to have healthy adult relationships, to trust other people, and the way they raised their own children. Among some of the disturbing findings of Wallerstein's study: children from divorced families are three times more likely to be referred for psychological help by schools than children whose parents are still married; children from divorced families are more aggressive, have more learning problems and are more likely to have problems with peer relationships than kids whose parents are still married; children with divorced parents become sexually active earlier, have more sexual partners as teenagers and are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol as young teenagers than are kids from intact families. As adults, people whose parents were divorced are less likely to marry themselves and are more apt to have psychological problems. About two out of three of the adults in Wallerstein's long-term study of children of divorce had decided not to have children themselves. Those who had were more likely to have had children out of wedlock.
This is the kind of survey that I hope will serve as a wake up call for some of the people out there who are considering a divorce and might still be able to save their marriages. Hopefully, it will also remind people who are already divorced of the importance of getting along with their child's other parent. The selfishness of divorced parents can and often does impact the lives of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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